Seattle Seahawks

How Jadeveon Clowney’s arrival has transformed vibe, outlook of Seahawks’ defensive line

Upbeat? Humble? Trying to stay out of the spotlight?

The Seahawks’ Jadeveon Clowney is not the same version the Houston Texans were so eager to get rid of two weeks ago they practically gave him away after the Pro Bowl defensive end’s contract holdout.

“I think it’s worth remarking that he’s been great about attitude-wise, and his mentality has been great,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said in the middle of his second game week with his new, prized pass rusher.

“He’s been upbeat and positive. He’s been very oriented to not trying to be in the limelight front of it all. He’s been very humble about the way he’s taken to the approach.

“I couldn’t ask for more.”

Bill O’Brien can’t relate. Clowney’s coach and top football authority until Aug. 31 truly could not ask for more than what he settled for from the Seahawks. It was not a trade so much as a heist.

Clowney refused to sign the Texans’ franchise-tag tender, so the team couldn’t shop him to all 32 NFL teams. Houston and O’Brien, who essentially has become the Texans’ general manager, too, since they fired theirs this summer, could only deal with teams Clowney approved of, to get him to agree to sign the tender. He had to sign that to get traded.

Clowney said Seahawks or Eagles or no trade. So the Seahawks got the first-overall choice in the 2014 draft for two lower-tier players, Jacob Martin and the about-to-be-cut Barkevious Mingo, plus a third-round draft choice.

That’s minimal cost for a force who made everyone around him better in his first Seattle game last weekend.

Clowney makes the Seahawks’ defensive line much more difficult for the Steelers (0-1) to prepare for and block in Sunday’s game at Pittsburgh than it was two weeks ago.

Clowney had a sack, two tackles, one for a loss, plus a hit on quarterback Andy Dalton while batting away one of the Cincinnati quarterback’s passes in Seattle’s 21-20 victory last weekend. Clowney also bulled through Bengals repeatedly, causing blockers to tackle him for holding penalties. He attracted double-team blocks that freed Seahawks teammate Quinton Jefferson inside of him. Jefferson had the best game of his four-year career.

Clowney didn’t think he and his line mates weren’t all that in his first game for Seattle.

“I feel like we did OK with it, at times. But we have a lot of work to do,” he said. “It’s only our first week being together like this and getting to know each other.

“I just got here, so we’re just trying to get guys lined up and learn what they’re doing.”

Clowney played 48 of the defense’s 77 snaps, far more than expected for his first game in 8 1/2 months.

He is making more than $15 million this year; only Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner are earning more this season. He is playing for an even bigger contract after 2019. Yet the Seahawks are impressed that their newest superstar has been so...

“He’s been fun,” Carroll said.

“Fun to have around. And he’s worked hard and met in the meeting rooms extra. He’s done everything. He was really happy about being here. You can tell just in his demeanor and all that. He’s been really great.

“I think it’s worth noting because it’s obvious that he’s been so positively good.”

For everyone.

Jefferson had four sacks in three NFL seasons before he got two last weekend lining up next to Clowney against the Bengals.

“Without question, that was a great game. He was so close to having more numbers, too,” Carroll said. “He just missed a sack there late. Had another one, almost knocked another ball down, it was right in the face of the quarterback. He has played a great football game. And we’re thrilled, just thrilled that that’s what he was able to bring.”

Jefferson was a starting defensive end with since-cut Cassius Marsh in the dark ages of the Seahawks’ defense line. August.

That was before the trade for Clowney, and before 2015 Pro Bowl bookend edge rusher Ziggy Ansah practiced for the first time with his new team coming off shoulder surgery. Ansah practiced on a limited basis Wednesday; Carroll said it’s a day-to-day proposition if the 30-year-old end makes his Seattle debut against the Steelers Sunday.

L.J. Collier is back practicing on a limited basis, too.

“We are on the way back up,” Collier said.

There is a growing probability the rookie first-round draft choice makes his NFL debut at defensive end in Pittsburgh.

“We’ll see L.J. practice full this week,” Carroll said. “So he’ll be in the competition to see where he fits.”

Plus, the Seahawks like what Branden Jackson has produced in the preseason.

The plan is for Clowney and Ansah to eventually play on opposite ends, Ansah the weakside, “Leo” rush end and Clowney the more pass-and-run-defending strongside end. As Jefferson showed on passing downs against the Bengals in the opener, he can be effective as a rush tackle. Clowney did that, too, in Houston. He actually moved up and down the defensive line with the Texans.

That end/tackle, Michael Bennett-type hybrid rusher role is what the Seahawks intended for Rasheem Green when they drafted him in the third round last year out of USC. Green has yet to fulfill that expectation. But with Ansah still out Green started opposite Jefferson in the opener. Green played the most snaps on the defensive line, 49.

“Well, he’s playing both end spots and he’s playing inside on the pass rush, too. He can play anything for us right now,” Carroll said. “He’s really well-versed. He played well. He had two great rushes at the end of the (Bengals) game to finish it off.

“We’re really excited that the whole group is kind of elevating.”

That’s now five defensive ends for a team that a couple weeks ago was searching for one who was available with proven ability to pressure opposing quarterbacks. A potential fatal flaw for the 2019 Seahawks has become a possible deep strength in the making.

After a spring and summer of angst about the pass rush, Seattle has players to move around and inside while tackle Jarran Reed (10 1/2 sacks in 2018) sits out five more games for his NFL suspension. It’s for an alleged domestic-violence incident.

Jefferson is emerging as a pass rusher the Seahawks can’t afford to keep off the field, even when Clowney and Ansah are on it. So he may play more at tackle.

“He has flexibility that we can move him around as well. He can play inside and outside, as you saw,” Carroll said.

“It just like...it kind of came together. We’ve seen him all throughout the offseason with a lot of confidence. He’s felt really good about his chances to be a factor.”

Collier’s role remains uncertain. The Seahawks didn’t see enough of him before he got carted out of practice with a badly sprained ankle on July 30, the fifth day of training camp.

“He’s worked really hard right now. He has jumped back ahead of schedule here with a chance to maybe even play this week,” Carroll said of Collier. “It’s been very upbeat. The guys get through that whole process of going through the draft and all that. It can take a lot out of them where they don’t get to focus on their work outside. They’re not quite as well-conditioned as they’d like to be, and they jump in here and they’re catching up the whole time.

“He did a great job in the time away and came back better than before.”

Now that they have more promising pieces arriving and returning, the next step is consistent production.

Dalton threw for 418 yards on 51 passes, using one- and two-step drops to combat Clowney’s and Jefferson’s consistent penetration into the Bengals backfield last weekend.

Ben Roethlisberger poses the opposite challenge this Sunday. The Steelers’ Super Bowl-champion passer extends plays as long or longer than anyone in the league, and even if you get past Pittsburgh’s formidable offensive line you have to bring the 6-foot-5, 241-pound QB to the ground.

“That’s why we do push-up,” Seahawks All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner joked Wednesday.

Then next week, the record-breaking Drew Brees comes to Seattle with his New Orleans Saints.

Maybe Clowney’s new, humble way is the right one for this Seahawks’ defensive line.

For now.

“We’re not trying to peak right now. We’ve got a lot of football left,” Clowney said.

“We’re just going to keep working towards that.”

Gregg Bell is the Seahawks and NFL writer for The News Tribune. In January 2019 he was named the Washington state sportswriter of the year by the National Sports Media Association. He started covering the NFL in 2002 as the Oakland Raiders beat writer for The Sacramento Bee. The Ohio native began covering the Seahawks in their first Super Bowl season of 2005. In a prior life he graduated from West Point and served as a tactical intelligence officer in the U.S. Army, so he may ask you to drop and give him 10.
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